The Devil Wears Prada

“A million girls would kill for this job!”

To finally put the Oscar season to bed, and to honor Meryl Streep’s surprising but not shocking win for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in The Iron Lady which I reviewed here, I’ve decided to review an earlier Streep film about success, both personal and professional, and fashion – since fashion is so much a part of the feeding frenzy known as the Oscars. It is a film that stars Meryl Streep as well as another actress who will be forever remembered for her role in the Oscar broadcast in 2011 – Anne Hathaway. This is a film that I saw back in August of 2006, and hadn’t seen since [until a few hours ago].

The film was entitled The Devil Wears Prada. The screenplay was adapted by Aline Brosh McKenna from the best selling novel of the same name written by Lauren Beth Weisberger. In a few words, it is the story of a young girl who is naive and totally oblivious to the world of high fashion who lands a job at the biggest fashion magazine in New York, as the second assistant to the magazine’s Editor. As I said above – it is a job that a million girls would kill to get.

Hathaway plays Andrea aka ‘Andy’ Sachs, a graduate from Northwestern University, who somehow despite being totally wrong for the job – lands it. While we learn about the inner workings of the fashion industry, for Andy Sachs, she now finds herself right smack in the heart of what could be called the viper’s nest, or the lion’s den, or even dead center in the middle of  a maze where an entire rat pack moves continuously at high speed. Her boss is the titular ‘Devil Who Wears Prada’, or said out of her hearing – The Dragon Lady.

This will work in Evanston, Illinois, but just won't do at Runway Magazine

First of all, she doesn’t look right for the job. Andy is by no means fat, or even heavy – but in that world of haute couture, she looks, well, wrong. She’s known as the smart fat girl which is one of the reasons why Miranda Priestly, the doyenne of Runway Magazine, took a chance on her and gave her the job. The other reason is that Emily, now Miranda’s Number One Assistant had previously sent Miranda two previous Number Two Assistants, both of whom crashed and burned, or said another way – were quickly fired.

Andy has the following talk with Nigel, Runway Magazine’s Art Director, while they are in line at the magazine’s cafeteria, waiting to pay for lunch. Nigel has just told Andy that the main ingredient of her selected lunch – corn chowder – is cellulite.

Andy Sachs: So none of the girls here eat anything?
Nigel: Not since two became new four and zero became the new two.
Andy Sachs: Well, I’m a six…
Nigel: Which is the new fourteen.

So size does matter. Poor Andy – she lacks style, fashion sense, is being worked outrageously, and on top of all that, she hasn’t a moment to eat a thing. Miranda never says thanks for a job well done. She treats her assistants like a combination of her own handmaids, go-fers, or slaves. If by chance you fail to have hot coffee on her desk when she enters, or a different task remains incomplete, or even still in progress – you get a merciless tongue lashing. It is never loud, it’s never shouted – but softly spoken doesn’t mean that it isn’t vicious.

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Luck: The HBO Series – Episode 5 Recap

Because of the Oscars, I couldn’t watch the HBO Series Luck  in it’s usual slot on Sunday night until today, Monday. Episode 5 began the second half of the season with a few distinct changes. Nick Nolte as Walter Smith had the week off. Also off on a holiday, at least away from our eyes were Jerry’s lousy skills, or is it luck, at the poker table. We only ‘heard’ that his losses to Leo amounted to more than $280,000. You don’t need me to tell you, but that’s a serious chunk of change.

Along with Jerry, Lonny and Renzo had little to do other than show concern about Marcus who had to be dragged to the hospital once again. It’s his cardiomyopathy acting up once more. There he was told that unless he was more careful about managing his stress – he’d be betting on celestial horse races far sooner than he’d like.

So if Jerry wasn’t gambling, and Lonny wasn’t whoring around, that meant that gambling and vice were on holiday. Even the evil jockey, Ronny Jenkins was on good behavior this week  with nary a sign of weed and alcohol in sight. But that sense of him being a good guy lasted only until he announced to Joey that he was signing on with a new jockey’s agent. There was one other element on hiatus this week. That would be Ace Bernstein’s revenge plotting. We didn’t see or hear word one about his former and possibly future associates like Mike and his friends. There was nothing about the boy wonder Nathan Israel either.

So what did happen?

The Irish horse that Gus owned (wink-nudge-nudge) called Pint of Plain was finally going to run. Gus saw the next day’s entries in the racing program and asked Trainer Turo Escalante about it. That gave Turo an opportunity to try and play his mind games on Gus. As we’ve seen throughout the series – Turo is always playing an angle.

Turo Escalante played by John Ortiz

Gus wanted to know why the horse was entered to run, and why they hadn’t been told about it. Turo played his card and said that it was only an entry to help fill the race – a mere courtesy to the track’s Racing Secretary. Further, it was 90% certain that he would scratch the horse out of the race.

But Ace saw through Escalante’s tricks figuring that the plan was to enter the horse, put the bug-boy rider on him, then scratch him out of the race to make him look bad, all of which would increase the odds (meaning a much higher payoff for a win) the next time out. So Ace turned the tables on Escalante. This time – Ace played an angle on Turo.

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Oscars: The ABC Red Carpet Live Show

[Written on the fly during the broadcast – so forgive the typos and poor sentence construction – thanks].

Oscars: Red Carpet Live Show – On ABC and hosted by Robin Roberts, Louise Roe, Jess Cagle, Tim Gunn, and Nina Garcia. We will learn what the stars are wearing – yeah, right. Fun to watch, but really, I don’t care if Octavia Spencer is wearing Jimmy Chu shoes or beach sandals.

Jonah Hill came with his Mom. Maya Rudolph talked about undergarments otherwise known as ‘shapewear’. Rooney Mara’s Givenchy gown looked more like a nightgown than ‘evening wear.’ Jessica Chastain wore an embroidered Alexander McQueen creation. Who’s he?

So ‘fashion is a mystery, a fantasy, a dream’ – that’s what they said. At the break, Robin said, “… for the glitz, the glamor, the interviews that you can only get here so … [stay with us which means watch our commercials]”. Once more, who cares?

Apparently many do. They wouldn’t have this show if folks didn’t want to see it. Even Prince Albert of Monaco ( Grace Kelly – his Mom, won the Oscar for Best Actress exactly 60 years ago) put in an appearance. Emma Stone wore a red gown by Giambattista Valli, and toted a Luis Vuitton mini-handbag also known as a ‘clutch’..

In the third quarter of the show, sorry, make that the middle third – they introduced some of the Moms of the stars. Or as they were called: the Mom-inees. 15 seconds of screen time per. Viola Davis showed off in a green Vera Wang gown. Michelle Williams wore a coral, tiered Luis Vuitton gown. According to fashion critic Nina Garcia – the pink clutch bag just killed.

Christopher Plummer was handed an oddball question from Louise about how it would feel to win an Oscar at this late stage of his life.  At the age of 82, he’d be the oldest winner ever. His reply, “If it happens, I’d think – It’s about time!”

l to r: Cameron Diaz, Michelle Williams, Viola Davis

Tina Fey wore a dark strapless affair by Carolina Herrera. She looked great in the snug dress. Colin Firth and his Missus were next. We got to see another red dress on Mrs Firth who said not a word because she wasn’t asked to. Not even a hello from Louise, the interviewer.  A short feature was next – a tv kid, Rico Rodriguez from Modern Family and his Mom took in all the nominees for Best Pictures in one day, and they worried if their parking would be validated. Jean Dujardin showed up next. His French accent made it difficult to understand him. He loves LA because –  (in his own words) “… right turn on red, cinnamon rolls, and I got to shave my mustache off since arriving in town.”

There’s nine minutes left in the middle third. Tim Gunn got lucky. He got to interview the ‘spectacular’ (his words) Jennifer Lopez wearing a gown by Zuhair Murad. Nick Nolte showed up next with Louise. He is the only guest to appear on this show wearing sunglasses. He and Ms Roe (that’s her below center between Tina Fey on the left and Angelina Jolie on the right) seemed to be speaking different languages as he couldn’t understand her or wouldn’t answer her questions. Maybe it was really that he couldn’t answer the questions.

l to r: Tina Fey, Louise Roe, Angelina Jolie

The red carpet is 500 feet long and 33 feet wide, in case you were wondering. Thank you for that tidbit Robin. Jess Cagle then interviewed Zack Galifianakis who told us that he took a bath today as well as washing his mustache. Tim got to interview the ‘breathtaking’ (his words) Penelope Cruz wearing an Armani gown. She described her fashion style as  “I know what I like, and I know what I don’t like.”  Wonderful. Thanks Tim.

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Elite Squad: The Enemy Within

Let’s set up the situation in Elite Squad: The Enemy Within. Lt. Col. Roberto Nascimento is Rio de Janeiro’s top cop. Not in rank, but certainly in effectiveness. As head of BOPE, the acronym for Rio’s SWAT team, he has been very successful in reducing the drug trade in the city. He’s not been able to eradicate it, no one could do that – but his ‘shoot first, take no prisoners’ methods – have made him very popular. He ‘s been a cop for 21 years and he’s risen to head up the entire BOPE operation.

When once they had only three platoons and just six vehicles – they’re now a battalion with superior fire power, state of the art weapons, along with top notch surveillance and communication systems, plus armored vehicles and helicopters.

At a Rio prison, a riot breaks out, and the prisoners belonging to rival factions within the prison, begin killing each other. In fact, this was a gang war over the drug trade within the prison. A tactical BOPE squad is called in to quell the riot. Nascimento controls his forces via radio contact.

Meanwhile a requested negotiator, a human rights activist called Diogo Fraga, is in close contact with Beirada, one of the prison faction leaders, and a cease fire is being discussed.

One of Nascimento’s top captains, Andre Matias is within shooting range of Beirada who is holding on to Fraga and has a gun.

Top – Beirada, Middle – Fraga, Bottom -Matias

Trained to shoot first – Matias ignores an order, and drops Beirada with a single head shot. The riot, which had been momentarily on hold, now goes fully out of control. Nascimento and Matias are blamed. Nascimento is too successful and too popular to be fired. So he’s removed as the head of BOPE, and kicked upstairs to a desk job – Head of Surveillance – Wire Taps. Matias is removed from BOPE and reassigned/demoted to being a regular or standard streep cop.

Now that Nascimento is positioned within the halls of power, he will begin to understand that his fears about the drug trade and corruption are all too real, and that he is now located right in the heart of it. You see, due to the effectiveness of BOPE, the drug lords have less product to push on the streets, and the buyers of the drugs are finding it harder and harder to score.

This is a good situation, at least you’d think it was. Only if you follow the money, you’d find that the drug lords now have less money to pay to the corrupt cops who are in bed with the corrupt politicians who need the votes to stay in power.

The answer is simple – the corrupt cops, now facing their own financial problems – come to a startling conclusion. There’s more profit if you remove the middle men. So these paramilitary groups – not quite police and not quite military – but somewhere in between – start to assassinate the heads of drug syndicates not to rid the city of drugs – but to control the businesses themselves.

Soon they not only control the flow of drugs, but they’re also in control of the most important services in these slums – gas for cooking, and cable services – telephone, tv, and internet.

Irandhir Santos as Diogo Fraga. That’s Beirada’s blood on his shirt.

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Watching Director Steve McQueen’s efforts in his directorial debut put a lot on our plates as film viewers. The film is called Hunger and it stars Michael Fassbender as a prisoner in the Maze Prison, which has also been called Long Kesh, near Belfast, Northern Ireland. The other star is Liam Cunningham as a Catholic priest.

The film doesn’t go down easy. In the first third of the film there’s plenty of silence. In short we are shown rather than told. In this segment there are two chief characters, the first is Raymond Lohan played by Stuart Graham. He says next to nothing. We watch as he tends to his hands which have bruised knuckles. He dresses, eats breakfast, and before he leaves for work, he gets down on the ground looking beneath his car. We will come to find that he is depressed about his job, and we will learn why his knuckles are bruised.

The other character is Davey Gillen played by Brian Milligan. As we meet him he’s just about to begin his six-year sentence in the prison. After he refuses to wear a prison uniform, he is marked down as non-cooperative. He wants to wear his own clothes. Instead, after stripping down, he is issued a blanket, and led off to his cell. There he finds he is to live in conditions that would have to seriously improve just to get to deplorable. But things won’t improve.

His situation is shocking, so shocking, that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to finish the film. On the other hand we get to find out why Raymond Lohan is depressed. He is not a prisoner but we will come to learn that his situation is just as hellish as those incarcerated. The main difference is that he sleeps at home, and is a free man.

In the second part of the film, we will meet a prisoner, Bobby Sands, played by Michael Fassbender, and a priest, Father Dominic Moran portrayed by Liam Cunningham. If Bobby Sands sounds familiar to you, that is because he was real and he died in prison after a hunger strike which last 66 days. Sands and Father Moran will have a talk.

Bobby Sands: I’m starting a hunger strike on the first of March.

Father Moran: You‘re going head to head with a British government that is unshakeable.

This talk is about 20 minutes in length and most of it is without camera movement. Director McQueen has set them up at a table in a visitor’s room. There Sands and Moran will discuss the proposed Hunger Strike. Sands is not going to be deterred by the priest. The priest will play every philosophical card in his possession to no avail. McQueen gives us a static two shot. It is two men talking and smoking. They shift in their chairs, the smoke curls, matches are struck as they debate. The arguments are persuasive – from either perspective. It’s not always easy to understand everything they say – but from the purely cinematic style employed, you will be sure that you’ve never ever seen anything like this before.

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The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)

County Cork, Ireland is the location of the film The Wind that Shakes the Barley. Directed by Ken Loach and written by Paul Laverty, a pair that has worked together many times – the film is both a story of the Irish struggle for independence from Britain, and a tale of the two O’Donovan brothers who valued their principles above all else.

As the film begins, it is 1920, and we are watching a number of lads play a spirited game of hurling. After, a small group of them head home but they’re curtailed (make that interrogated and roughed up) by the Black & Tans – an auxiliary force that was a part of the RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary). Actually they were mostly former British World War I officers, and they were recruited by the RIC and charged with suppressing revolution in Ireland. Their chief target was the IRA (Irish Republican Army) but they also were notorious ruffians because they attacked the Irish civilians.

On this particular day, they killed one of the hurling players because he refused to give his name and address in English. He spoke Gaelic, and for this – he was beaten to death. This savagery was occuring throughout the country, and often, the IRA retaliated in kind.

Teddy O’Donovan (played by Padraic Delaney) is the local commander of an IRA wing. His brother Damien O’Donovan (played by Cillian Murphy) is a med school graduate who is about to leave for London to work in a hospital. After Micheal is beaten to death, Damien is still certain he’s going to London to be a doctor.

But at the rail station he watches horrified, as the Black & Tans beat up the train’s conductor and engineer for refusing to allow the armed B&T’s on the train.

This is the moment that creates enough impact; so much so that it changes Damien’s mind. He then joins up with his brother in the IRA. They raid and steal weapons, they ambush, they assassinate. In their mind, they are fighting the good fight, struggling to throw the occupying forces out of their country. They want nothing less than full independence from Britain.

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NBC’s New TV Series: Smash!

Musicals & Television – I think I can only name two musical TV series: Fame and Glee; and I’ve not seen even one minute of Glee. I can think of another one which was about New York cops and it was a musical, but I can’t remember its title, probably because it crashed and burned and was taken off the air after just a few episodes. So the new NBC Series Smash, which premiered on Monday, February 6th, is a bit away from my normal tastes in TV fare. It is a series about the making of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe. We go, right from the jump, into a fast paced, high energy production.

Though there’s got to be some exposition to establish some characters, there was only a single dramatic thread in the opening show that seemed slow, in the sense that you could say – during this section the show dragged it heels. That was the adoption thread. But maybe the producer made a change on the fly because later on the husband offers up an opinion that the long wait for a Chinese adopted child is too long.

I loved that assorted story lines that all meet and merge in and around the play in question: Marilyn The Musical. To give you an idea of the components, we have:

A) Two gals competing for the Marilyn role:

Katherine McPhee as Karen Cartwright. Cartwright is a tall and slender brunette. Though she looks nothing like Marilyn or a Marilyn wanna-be, she can belt out a tune with the best of them. But she lacks experience.

Karen (Katherine McPhee) and Dev (Raza Jaffrey)

Meanwhile the long rehearsal sessions as well as the pressure of getting the part have put a strain on her relationship with her boyfriend, Dev Sundaram played by Raza Jaffrey, who works for the Mayor in City Hall.

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HBO’s Luck – Episode 4

It is Sunday night and President’s Day is tomorrow, Monday February 20th. Then, it’s back to work on Tuesday for those of you who will enjoy the day off on Monday. Speaking of work, I caught the HBO series Luck tonight. The 4th episode. Maybe this episode should have had an alternate title. I figure ‘Work’ seem to capture the essence of this episode. It not only seemed to fit better, but there was a decided lack of Luck tonight.

From the top of the cast down to the lesser and or newer players, everyone was toiling.

Chester ‘Ace’ Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) went to work on his old nemesis – a mob boss named Mike (Michael Gambon). Bernstein once did time in the penitentiary rather than rolling over on Mike and his associates on a drug possession charge. Now Bernstein is focusing on his scheme which has revenge written all over it.

l to r: Dustin Hoffman as 'Ace Bernstein', Michael Gambon as 'Mike'

At the same time, Bernstein hires one guy, a market hot shot called Nathan Israel (Patrick J. Adams). We don’t know how – but Israel is going to help sink the hook even deeper into Mike. But Bernstein has also caught the eye of Claire Lachay (Joan Allen) who seems to be running a charitable organization which helps older horses stay out of the glue factory and employs ex-cons. We haven’t seen the evidence, but Lachay may not be all that she says she is. In any event she’s planted her hook into Bernstein.

l to r: Joan Allen as 'Claire Lachay'; Patrick Adams as 'Nathan Israel'

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Defiance is the title of the 2008 film by Edward Zwick who before this film, directed Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai, The Siege, Legends of the Fall, and Glory. That’s quite an impressive list. So there were high expectations for this film which was set in the early 1940’s in Eastern Europe. There, three Jewish brothers escape from the Nazi forces into the forests of Eastern Poland and Belarus at the head of a small band of survivors who chose to struggle for life by foraging for food and weapons, hoping to survive the brutal winters, the Nazis, and the collaborationists.

Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell play the Bielski brothers Tuvia, Zus, and Asael. Both of their parents and each of their wives and children had perished at the hands of the Nazis. The film’s two taglines were “Freedom begins with an act of defiance”, “Courage is the ultimate weapon.”

So we have a tale of survival in the forest, and all of that tied in with the anti-Semitism of some of the Poles and the Russians, as well as the Nazis. While this film may have literally been a long walk deep into the forest – this was no picnic. These people were faced with deprivations and hardships of hunger, without the benefits of shelter, warmth, along with the overriding lack of sanitary conditions not to mention privacy.

When they had to flee, they had to leave behind almost everything. This happened repeatedly. This ultimately led to a rift between Zus who wanted to fight or die fighting, who reasoned that by fighting and killing Germans, he would be saving Jews. While Tuvia, who wanted to survive and keep the group alive by avoiding conflict except for small guerilla like raids to steal food, clothes, weapons and ammunition. So they split up – with Tuvia staying in the forest with the growing group of people struggling to survive while Zus and a handful of men decided to leave and join up with a large group of Russian partisans and soldiers.

This film is a lot to handle. While we root for all of the brothers – you will have the ethical conflict that they faced popping up in your own head. Should they fight, and kill, and be as animalistic as those they were fighting. Or was the path of survival by evasion and hiding better in the long run. Tuvia said, “We may be hunted like animals, but we will not become animals.” Zus, as he was leaving said, ” Anyone else who would rather fight, than wait to be killed, now is your chance.”

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